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June 2004
Geneva, Ohio
 

    If your route takes you along Interstate 90 between Cleveland and Erie, you’ll pass Geneva, Ohio. You wouldn=t know it from the sleepy village Geneva is today, but this community once figured prominently in the automobile industry. Signs in town note that R.E. Olds, developer of cars such as the Oldsmobile, lived here and began designing his automobiles in this community, but he moved to Michigan to begin production.

    More significant to Geneva were other manufacturers, such as, the Ewing Taxi Company that made taxis in Geneva and shipped them all over the nation. There was also the Geneva Steamer, an early sports car whose production began here in 1901. Those were heady days in the new automobile industry. Nationwide during the first third of the 20th century, some 1800 companies tried their hand at making cars.

    When the automobile industry left Geneva, residents turned to bicycle manufacturing, and for a while the bicycle business boomed. But much of the industry in the community was finally drawn away  when Cleveland developed into a major Great Lakes port. Then Geneva settled into its current role as a farming community.

     Today, Geneva is a center of the grape growing industry; something like 1,500 acres of grapes are grown in the Geneva area. And each year the community celebrates its role with a grape festival. We paid a visit to that festival and quickly discovered yet another use for the humble grape. Grapes are employed throughout the festival as puns. AHave a grape day,@ greets you on a sign at the edge of the city.

     We arrived in time for the parade, which featured truck beds festooned with grape leaves and slogans like,  ABeing a cup scout is totally grape.@ Or, AWhat a grape guy!@ And ABest wishes for another grape year.@  Even a local church got into the act with a float proclaiming, AWe are grapeful,@ along with a biblical reference--John 15:5, AI am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.@

    The name of the festival is the Grape JAMboree, and for those days, everything is purple—from the official JAMboree T-shirts to the cotton candy to the grape ice cream to the balloons that keep escaping and floating up into the heavens.

    The parade route was lined with people on lawn chairs who staked out their places. Everybody in town was there, and everybody seemed to know everybody.  People lining the route called out to those in the parade who called back by name, sometimes coming over to talk for awhile and then running to catch up as the procession slowly made its way down the street.

    And amidst all this we realized that the JAMboree isn=t just about grapes. It=s about bringing people together. Americans yearn for a sense of community—being part of a people who know and care for each other. Community is often a casualty of the rush of modern life, but it still exists, if you know where to look. That=s the real product of small towns like Geneva. Yes, they have businesses and factories and farms surrounding them, but what they’re really about is community.

    As the chair of the Grape JAMboree put it,  “I like the feeling that you go into the grocery store, and everybody knows everyone. There=s a feel of a real home town, like a Mayberry kind of feeling, and it=s real comforting. I suppose it wouldn=t be for everyone, but it=s definitely where I want to be.”

For more about Geneva and its surrounding communities, see the CD for I-90 East: Cleveland to Erie or I-90 West: Erie to Cleveland.

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